Book Review: Build-On

Build-On: Converted Architecture and Transformed Buildings edited by Robert Klanten and Luke Feireiss
Gestalten, 2009
Hardcover, 240 pages

History for architects often presents a paradoxical situation: old buildings preserved are respected yet contrasted by new interventions. History has stopped becoming a model, in effect becoming canvases for anything-goes designs layered upon the existing. This is hardly a negative situation, though the variety of responses to different scenarios illustrate a gradient of respect between the past and present. That variety can be found throughout the pages of Build-On, a collection of primarily European projects where new buildings confront old ones in many creative ways. They range from barely apparent interventions like feld72's Million Donkey Hotel (this week's dose) to the strikingly oppositional, like Coop Himmelb(l)au's Akron Art Museum. The projects are collected into three categories (Add-On, Inside-Out, Change Clothes) that describe the different perceived stances on the new relating to the old. The two examples above fall into the second and first categories respectively, and the third includes a number of industrial reuse projects, like the High Line, where architecture and/or landscape puts a new look on an old structure, not just a new use.
In comparison to other collections of contemporary architecture, the focus on tactics of designing with existing buildings is refreshing. Many books of this ilk opt to use building types for definition. But strategies of reuse that cross over the boundaries of function can have a great impact on architecture, especially when demolition is the least sustainable option faced in areas with existing buildings. The quality of the projects in this collection should be commended, but I yearned for something to bind the projects together, something to look at them relative to each other. Diagrams describing how each project related to the existing would have been helpful; as is a building section here and there is all that is proffered beyond photographs. The drawings, when provided, are valuable, but my comment points to the importance of the extra effort, in this case going beyond even the strongest of themes to create a book that stands out from the myriad other collections of contemporary architecture. It's a relevant consideration as blogs and other online publications blanket the target audience with more and more eye candy and make books like this a dying breed.